Westminster junior quarterback Christian Etchison talks about the Owls expectations for the playoffs.
For the Westminster High football team, it’s been all about forward progress under third-year coach Matt Study.
The Owls have seen their win total climb from three to six to nine. This level of success would have been next to unthinkable only a few years ago.
“We felt we were going to be pretty daggone good this year,” Study said. “But no one else did. For whatever reason, we kind of flew under the radar. I don’t think a lot of people knew the type of athletes and players we had. I really think they still don’t.”
Whatever the case, Westminster isn’t flying under the radar anymore.
The No. 1 seeded Owls host No. 4 Watkins Mill of Montgomery County Friday at 7 p.m. in a Class 3A West Region semifinal ar Ruby Field.
Since Watkins Mill enters with a 5-5 record, the biggest challenge for Westminster may be not overlooking the visitors. It’s clearly at the top of Study’s mind.
Markell Grant is Watkins Mill’s quarterback, and the senior has 1,894 passing yards and 23 touchdowns. He also has more than 500 rushing yards to go with seven TD runs.
“I don’t think you can get wrapped up with a 5-5 record,” Study said. “They are extremely athletic and fast. Their wide receivers find ways to get open. Their quarterback is huge, has a big arm, runs all over the place and finds ways to get rid of the ball. They are a dangerous team.”Many of Westminster’s opponents probably say the same thing about the Owls, who used a spread offense to outscore foes 377-148.
Westminster’s most valuable player might just be junior quarterback Christian Etchison, a transfer from McDonogh School in Owings Mills.
He’s rushed for 286 yards and four touchdowns, but thrown for 1,649 yards and 23 touchdowns while completing 54 percent of his passes.
He threw for 172 yards and five touchdowns in a 52-7 victory over Winters Mill on Oct. 20. The 6-foot-4, 193-pound Etchison also tossed four touchdowns against Manchester Valley on Sept. 22.
“He came in right before we started our two-a-days,” Study said. “It just says a lot about his work ethic and the time he is willing to put in on his own time. He spends an immense amount of time watching film to understand the offense. He came in and became a leader in our locker room. That’s even more important.”
Etchison, whose brother Duke played quarterback at Westminster and led the Owls to the playoffs in 2013, has plenty of weapons around him.
Senior wide receivers Zane Lewis (32 receptions, 525 yards, five touchdowns), Roman Hawkins (27, 449, seven), Logan Nave (22, 226, five) and Chase Birdow (12, 171, four) are a huge part of the offense.
“You can’t just cover one guy,” Study said. “You have to respect everybody and I think that’s what opens it up for Christian. He has a tremendous receiving corps.”
The Owls can pick significant yardage running the ball, too.
Jaden Louis (88 carries, 549 yards, six TDs) and Erik Stranko (39, 363, three) rank as Westminster’s top running backs working behind an offensive line of center Patrick Almony, guards Noah Buttiglieri and Tre Price, and tackles Noah Boguski and Joe Parry.
“We have over 1,400 yards rushing, so the defense can’t just concentrate on us throwing the ball,” Study said.
The unit boasts linebackers TJ Schatz (84 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles) and Max Sommerville (77 tackles) and linemen Jacob Busic (six sacks) and Parry (4.5 sacks) and cornerback Tavian Montgomery (three interceptions), a transfer from Century.
“I am an offensive guy, but I really believe if you are going to win the tough ball games and go far, it will start with the defense,” Study said. “I have put more of an emphasis on defense than there was in the past. It was always like lets put all the playmakers on offense and whatever we have left put on defense.”
Winning a region championship has proven difficult for Carroll teams over the years, but the Owls have their sights set on more.